This is the second in a group of posts to meet our Braves’ family minor league farm hands. In the first installment, Ben introduced you to the Lynchburg Hillcats, our High-A Carolina league affiliate. Today, we’ll talk about the Mississippi Braves.
The AA/Southern League M-Braves (Pearl, MS – right beside Jackson) are led by manager Aaron Holbert, 41, who had cups of coffee in 1996 (St. Louis) and 2005 (Cincinnati) as an infielder. He’s been managing this team since the 2012 season. He is assisted by batting coach Jamie Dismuke and pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn.
Fun fact: Holbert seems to hold a major league record: longest gap between first two major league games: 9 years and 124 days. Go figure.
UPDATE: Thanks to Kyle Tait, the voice of the M-Braves, we have further info from the fine folks at Elias: my prior info didn’t go back quite far enough. As they dug deeper, and Kyle relayed (link here), there was another player with an even longer wait for his second big-league game:
The obscure record goes to pitcher Jack McFetridge, who made his debut on June 7, 1890 at the age of 20, then didn’t play another major league game until (around) April 23, 1903–a span of 4,702 days, or 12 years, 10 months and 16 days.
Nonetheless, we’ll still give Manager Holbert the nod for holding this distinction for the so-called ‘Modern Era’ of baseball – the period from 1900 and thereafter. You never know what you’re gonna find buried in baseball stats!
The Pitching Staff
Minor league teams routinely have large numbers of pitchers, owing to the common practice of spreading out their workloads. On top of that, almost any injury – however minor – will get you on the DL for a bit, and indeed, 3 of the pitchers assigned to AA are now on that disabled list. Here’s the lineup:
- Jason Hursh. Definitely on the fast track to Atlanta, this 2013 first round pick is probably a starter in the long term, but perhaps not in the short term.
- Lay Batista. Was invited to major league spring training. Got a chilly reception from the hitters up there. Has been a workhorse starter in the Angels’ system through AA. He should be pretty good for us here in the Southern League.
- John Cornely. Ditto. Gets a shot at AA after a fine year at Lynchburg. Finished 34 games there, saved 11.
- J.R. Graham. Believed to be 100% healthy after rehabbing a shoulder injury from Spring 2013. Still a top prospect until proven otherwise.
- Ryne Harper. Interesting delivery makes him a good reliever candidate. Lots of strikeouts, but a number of hits as well. He spent most of 2013 at Pearl as well. A bit surprised he didn’t move up to AAA after 1.79 ERA in 55 innings in 2013.
- James Hoyt. May be interesting to watch: 2.48 ERA in 33 innings here in 2013, 0.92 WHIP fueled from yielding only 17 hits… struck out almost twice that many. Actually didn’t do as well in 49 Lynchburg innings.
- Ryan Kelly (DL). Minor league free agent acquisition from the Padres this past season. AA/AAA over last couple of years; admittedly likely to help fill innings here and there, but should do well in that role.
- Aaron Northcraft (DL). Had a bad experience at Arizona Fall League. Needs to trust his stuff and improve command. Second time ’round at AA.
- Ronan Pacheco. Limited innings at AA last year, but posted 2.37 in 38 Lynchburg innings in 2013. Too many walks, though.
- Carlos Perez. International signing in 2009, Perez has been touted as a top prospect and is on the 40-man roster. This could be a make-or-break year for him. After an excellent start to 2013 in Rome, Carlos pitched well at Lynchburg, but walks were an issue (11 in 13.2 innings). He was shelled in his only outing for Mississippi this year (2 hits, 3 runs with a walk), but there was a lot of that going around – Mobile has a good team of hitters.
- Williams Perez. Good 4 inning outing to start the year. Williams (don’t call me Carlos) had a solid campaign for Lynchburg in 2013. Could be a darkhorse candidate to continue moving up..
- Benino Pruneda. Was actually a good relief prospectfor the Braves 2007-2011, having a fastball clocked as high as 103. But missed all of 2012-13 with injuries – yes, it was Tommy John. He’s back, though still listed as hurt. Gotta wonder if a 5’9″ guy ought to be even trying to throw 103.
- Chasen Shreve. Another crack at AA after a 4.43 (43 innings) in 2013. Walks are an issue. If this baseball thing doesn’t work out, he can lend his name out for TV private detective shows.
- Shae Simmons. Also got clocked a bit this Spring, but threw strikes… which made him somewhat unique. Still a closer-of-the-future candidate, though that future may have been pushed back a bit, thanks to Craig Kimbrel‘s new contract.
- Ryan Weber. Excellent season at Lynchburg in 2013 (81K/15BB in 94 innings with 15 starts).
The Position Players
This is the weakest part of the club, but there are some individuals who might make a splash (Hefflinger/Kubitza/Reyes/Lipka, and Rohm perhaps). That said, chances to move a lot of these guys up diminished substantially once the flurry of contract extension were inked early this year.
- Catchers: are Matt Kennelly and Braeden Schlehuber. Both coming back after 2013; neither can really hit (so naturally, Kennelly started the year 2 for 4). Both seem to be solid defenders.
- First base: Barrett Kleinknecht and Seth Loman. Barrett is back again; Loman a minor league free agent. Neither can hit.
- Second base: Emerson Landoni. Hits for average – like above .300) and not a lot else. Was Tommy La Stella‘s innings partner in 2013.
- Third base: Kyle Kubitza and Joe Leonard. Kubitza: never seen a pitch he didn’t want to take… 80 walks in 2013 (next closest at Lynchburg had 30). So yes, he has an eye, but they throw more strikes at higher levels (4K, 1BB so far in 3 games). He will be interesting to follow. Leonard was actually swapped out for Edward Salcedo this year, the latter getting promoted.
- Shortstop: Elmer Reyes (DL) and Gustavo Nunez. Reyes hit .285 at Lynchburg and has a little pop. Nunez was at AAA for Detroit last year – but can’t really hit.
- Outfielders: Robby Hefflinger, Cedric Hunter, Matt Lipka, and David Rohm. Hefflinger strikes out way too much. I hear he has a new approach. We’ll see: if that works for him, then look out. Matt Likpa is crazy fast, and seems to be coming back up on the prospect charts a bit. David Rohm hit .302 for Lynchburg. Hunter was another minor league free agent pickup (Indians AAA).
There’s your Mississippi Braves to start 2014. This team will live and die with its pitching – honestly not very much offensive potential. Look for Hursh and maybe a couple of the other pitchers to move up through this year. Definitely hoping that Graham regains his promise. Others may be replaced if Lynchburg turns out to be as good a cradle as Ben suggested.